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Fairtrade cotton: what’s the difference?

Social and environmental costs of Fairtrade cotton farming are five times lower
Fairtrade cotton

The Fairtrade Foundation has created a new tool to help fashion brands improve the transparency of their cotton sourcing and deepen their understanding of social and environmental responsibilities.

Threats to farmers

Unless cotton is farmed sustainably, its production leaves a heavy environmental and social toll that will affect its long term viability, the Fairtrade Foundation warns.

Farmers face multiple long-term threats, including climate change, food security, biotechnology, the circular economy and ‘fast fashion’ – trends that are combining to create both risks and opportunities for the cotton industry.

The charity said fashion brands that rely on cotton now have a real opportunity to make informed strategic decisions that will help create a more resilient business that’s accountable for its environmental and social impacts.

Identifying trade-offs

The study measured the environmental and social impacts on rural households in India, one of the world’s largest producers of cotton.

The valuation tool translates environmental and social values into the language of business and economics. It converts impacts and dependencies into costs and benefits expressed in monetary terms so companies can identify trade-offs.

The study found that the combined social and environmental costs of Fairtrade cotton farming are five times lower than those of conventional cotton farming.

Data show that the impacts of Fairtrade farming methods were 97% lower for the social elements and 31% lower for environmental components studied.

Higher income – lower social costs

The most significant social advantage for Fairtrade farmers was that they have more income. The research compared community benefits from Fairtrade Premiums, fair wages, income for farmers, engagement of unacceptable labour practices such as child labour and the social cost of overtime.

It revealed that Fairtrade cotton farmers tend to have lower social costs and higher social benefits such as fairer wages and investment in local schools.

‘Cotton is an integral part of our lives, from the sheets on our beds to the identity we project through the clothes we wear. Not only that, but cotton also provides livelihoods for millions across the globe.

‘But there is a strong cost for people and planet with cultivating the cotton that goes into our clothes, and our study shows that is markedly higher for conventional cotton farming.

‘This research illustrates how Fairtrade empowers farmers to decide their own future, is better for their communities and has a substantially lower footprint than conventional cotton.’

Cotton manager at the Fairtrade Foundation

Fairtrade in cotton

The Fairtrade Minimum Price protects against volatile market prices, and the Fairtrade Premium can be used for strategic investment, such as fertilisers, pesticides, fuel, yield and quality, plus community investment in essential infrastructure, including healthcare, education and clean water.

Fairtrade cotton farmers get access to export markets, training and advice on building capacity through environmentally friendly and long-term sustainable practices.

In 2016, UK retail sales of Fairtrade certified products exceeded £1.65 billion. Volume growth also increased, meaning that an estimated financial premium totalling around £30 million will go to farmers and producers across Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean to allow them to continue delivering improvements for themselves and their communities.

Click here for the Fairtrade Foundation’s advice on buying Fairtrade cotton.

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